Feeling Uncertain and Unsettled

Is that what this angst is?

Sometimes, I am reflective. It’s rare! I’ll be back in the data Monday to tell you whether your baby needs to avoid salt.

In the winter, there came a point where I felt overwhelmed with a loss of control; if you were a reader then, you could have read about my quest to perfect my backyard ice rink.

I find myself again with an omnipresent feeling and, on a long drive the other day, I realized I’d describe the feeling as … unsettled. Or maybe, uncertain is better. Uncertain and unsettled.

Back in the winter, I was frustrated with the timing of vaccines and the feeling of being unable to go anywhere. But, underneath that, at least I felt that I knew what was going to happen. Sometime, we would get expanded vaccine access. The winter viral surge would diminish. I tried to be patient. And those things did happen.

Right now, I simply feel I do not know what to expect. We are so lucky to have such good vaccine access in the US. And we are lucky that the vaccines are proving to be extremely good at preventing serious illness and death, even against variants. And we are lucky that COVID-19 in all its variant forms has remained mild in nearly all children.

With all this, it feels like there is a sense of the next phase, of some new normal, in sight.

And yet it’s kind of not. For a lot of reasons. Delta. Vaccine hesitancy. Policies which reflect an expectation of our ability to get to zero COVID. Fear. Conflicting science. Limited science. Lack of data. Insufficient coordination. Just, lots of things.

I fell victim, I think, to an obviously naïve early summer over-optimism. The pandemic was over! But it’s not, and the fact is that it’s not just delta or vaccine resistance. There are many, many steps to establishing a new post-pandemic normal, one which acknowledges the continued presence of COVID-19, takes appropriate precautions, but also allows a return to something like what was before. Yes, it would all be easier if everyone was vaccinated, but it’s facile to say that the only thing in our way is vaccine hesitancy.

The uncertainty clouds my images of the next months. When I imagine the first day of school, are my kid there in masks? No masks? Are we coordinating quarantine coverage just in case, or have we decided that if they wear masks they aren’t close contacts of infected people at school? Are the kids vaccinated? Testing?

Am I getting a booster shot? Is my mom?

Is there an off ramp here? The other day, a fully vaccinated gymnast at the Olympics tested positive, and she was then out of the competition. And close contacts are quarantining. This may make sense, but will it always be true? Even with the amazing vaccines we have, some infections will happen, although they will be largely asymptomatic or mild. Are we going to be testing everyone, everywhere, forever, and quarantining in this way?

I watch the case trackers in the New York Times, up 100% over the past couple of weeks. But what does this really mean? Hospitalizations and deaths are not up to the same extent — although both are up — and the link between cases and hospitalizations is different in places with higher and lower vaccine rates. I live in a place with high vaccine rates. Should I ignore this then? Presumably no, but maybe I react differently?

I cannot answer these questions. I have thoughts, perspectives, on some of them. But really no good answers. And I feel the uncertainty. And I suspect, based on the questions I hear these days, that I’m not alone.

Is there a way through uncertainty like this, a way to feel better about it? In my efforts to control my life in the winter, there was the ice rink. But it’s too hot right now, and I’m not sure perfect ice is the answer anyway.

Instead, I’m trying to do two things. The first is to take agency where I can and recognize that in some situations we can contingency plan around uncertainty. In the few cases where things are in my control — say, what I let my own kids do, or where I choose to wear a mask — I’ve thought through some personal rules (as in this discussion of cutoffs).

And what about when I can’t plan? When the uncertainty is about policies beyond my control, behavior of people who do not live in my house, who I cannot influence? With this uncertainty, I will sit with it, even if just for few moments. I will recognize it for what it is (and reflect on how much I dislike it). And then I will try — really, really, try — to (at least briefly) let the feeling go.

Feeling Uncertain? Not Uncertain? Weigh in!

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